Dodgers outfield prospect Trayvon Robinson has long been a sleeper favorite of mine. He made my Top 100 Prospects lists in each of the past two seasons thanks to his strong all-around game.
Robinson’s tearing the ball up in Triple-A this year, and seems like he’s just waiting the call to LA at this point with a .299/.377/.561 batting line.
And yet, I find myself in the weird position of suddenly being pessimistic about his potential impact.
What made Robinson so attractive in the first place was his broad-based set of skills. A 10th-rounder way back in 2005, he didn’t do much until 2009, when he hit .306/.375/.500 with 15 homers and 43 steals in 117 High-A games. It was the Cal League, but his combination of OK plate discipline, gap power, and plus speed made Robinson look like a potential starting center fielder.
He rose up prospect lists with a 2010 campaign in Double-A that put the talk of Cal League inflation to bed, batting .300/.404/.438. He only hit nine homers, but made up for it with 73 walks and 38 steals.
This year’s aforementioned .299/.377/.561 line in Triple-A superficially appears to be a continuation and consolidation of Robinson’s progress in those previous seasons, but a deeper look reveals a number of worrisome trends.
The most glaring of those is that his baserunning exploits have greatly diminished, as Robinson has only attempted twelve steals and converted eight. That’s not entirely surprising, given that he’s bulked up recently and is now listed at 5’10″ and 200 pounds–not a traditional basestealing build. Perhaps in a related development, he’s played nearly half his games in left field this season after playing center nearly exclusively before 2011.
The 23-year-old’s more muscular physique has allowed him to hit 21 homers on the season, which is already easily a career best for him. If the power spike is for real, then the trade of speed and defense for power would make a good deal of sense.
Unfortunately, it’s tough to trust the power spike, for a few reasons. The first is that Robinson plays in the hitter-friendly PCL, and we saw how average his power was in the generally neutral Southern League last season. His ultimate destination of Dodger Stadium is a fairly neutral environment as well, so he’s not going to keep getting that park boost. Furthermore, his current home park of Albuquerque is one of the five most hitter-friendly in the entire minor leagues, so he gets even more of a boost than the average PCL hitter (although he doesn’t have a pronounced home/road split, at least).
It would be stupid to simply call Robinson’s power spike entirely environmentally induced, but there’s a second major issue with it.
In 2009, he hit 29 doubles, 11 triples, and 17 home runs. Last season, he hit 23 doubles, five triples, and nine homers. This year, the homers have spiked to 21, but Robinson’s managed just nine doubles and five triples.
That means a couple of things. For one, the biggest driver of Robinson’s slugging increase has not been a broad-based increase in hitting ability, but rather a combination of the friendlier environment and a trade of doubles for home runs–which in itself could largely be chalked up to the ease with which the ball flies over the fence.
It’s certainly probable that Robinson’s gained some power in the past season, but there’s not a lot to suggest that he’s really a 30-HR guy in the big leagues anywhere but perhaps Colorado.
And that’s a problem, because yet another issue has popped up with Robinson this year–his strikeouts have shot up, as he’s whiffed 103 times in 85 games, the highest rate of his career. He’s got an acceptable amount of walks–38–but the strikeouts are enough of an issue that he’ll need to make substantial improvements to hit for much of an average.
So what we’re left with is not the player we thought Robinson was. It looked like he would be a .265/.345/.425 player with good speed and defense in center field, but instead, we might be getting a .240/.320/.440 hitter with average speed and defense in left field. That basically cuts his value in half.
There’s still time for Robinson to recover, as he’s shown lots of positives since 2009. But don’t just look at the gaudy homer total and triple-slash line and pencil him in as a future above-average starter.